Theme Park Ranger
9:19 AM EDT, March 13, 2014
Festival of Fantasy, Walt Disney World's new parade, is like an overgrown wind-up toy — bright, cheerful, crowd-pleasing and relentless.
Kilts spin, hippos do pirouettes, thugs swing, Lost Boys jump through hoops and fish form a circular conga line every afternoon now at Magic Kingdom. Shoot, pigs may even fly, for all I know. There are loads of design details on each float, almost to the point of distraction. I missed Donald and Daisy Duck the first time, not to mention tiny Timothy Q. Mouse from "Dumbo."
Disney has guests looking high and low, and many characters are in constant motion during the parade, which debuted Sunday.
The first float, known as the Princess Garden, takes characters for a spin. Two separate twosomes share a revolving turntable, allowing spectators on both sides of the street to get good looks at Tiana and Naveen ("The Princess and the Frog") and newcomer sister-princesses Anna and Else from "Frozen."
The center of that float also spins Cinderella and Prince Charming, but the one side portrays her dress, which is being sewn by busy little mice.
The motion becomes more intense as the "Tangled" float approaches. Three "thugs" are standing overhead on three swinging pendulums. Although I've been told many times that safety is the No.1 priority of the Walt Disney Co., if I were portraying a thug, I would have a tight grip on that hand strap.
And then the height escalates again. I wondered if Peter Pan and Wendy, in a ship above a rainbow, were too high to be seen, especially for a youngster. But I appreciate the elevated elements because they improve the odds of getting a photo, since every guest along the route blocks the lower sightlines with their straight-arm smartphone photography.
The height didn't seem to bother Merida, heroine of "Brave," perched atop a bagpipe-shaped float. She was clapping along with the soundtrack and acting spunky even at that distance.
"Our goal was to create something fresh and new and grand," senior show director Randy Wojcik says.
Down at ground level, I was thinking I wouldn't want to be part of that Scottish jig gig in the heat of an Orlando summer. Those dancers are part of the parade's movement, which extends through the fluid costume designs and even choreography for the dragon's tail-wagger.
Enter the showstopper: a mechanical-looking, fire-breathing dragon. Yes, that's actual fire from the loping lizard and, thankfully, it's up high. People on the curb went wild.
The parade soundtrack sets different tones for each float. It's triumphant for Prince Phillip slaying the dragon, regal with the princesses. A "Festival of Fantasy" tune runs throughout, but it's intertwined with atmosphere from the units. For instance, the song goes calypso in the style of "Kiss the Girl" as "The Little Mermaid" float passes.
"It's like a festival out on the street," Wojcik says. "Guests are able to see these vignettes come to life."
The finale float is introduced by "The Mickey Mouse Club March" and a kitchen-sink collection of classic characters, including Snow White, Pluto, Jiminy Cricket and Mad Hatter. Pinocchio rides a whale that has a miniature theme park operating on its back. Mickey and Minnie Mouse bring up the rear in an airship.
It's a spectacle, beginning to end, and pure Disney.
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Festival of Fantasy
Where: Magic Kingdom, off Interstate 4, southwest of Orlando
When: 3 p.m. daily
Cost: A one-day ticket is $99 ($94 for ages 3-9).
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